The throwback race at Hickory Motor Speedway proved to be a slam dunk fan favorite after the event’s hiatus last year. Old paint schemes of yesteryear were quite the rage. Wraps featured everything from owner tributes to honor fathers, grandfathers, family members, and favorite racers.
NASCAR legends Tim Richmond, Bobby Allison, and Sterling Marlin sported tribute schemes. The fans walked on the grid to take pictures and even get autographs from drivers like Scott Riggs, Larry Pollard, Jody Ridley, Joe Nemechek, and others. The warm, familiar tones of MRN Radio’s Winston Kelly and Steve Post, were heard over the PA system. The entire night was a trip down memory lane.
The gloves came off when the pace car turned off its lights and swung down the pit lane. Pole sitter Josh Berry swung a bit wide on lap three. The field bottled up the high side pushing Jared Fryar up to brush the wall. Fryar continued as Mason Diaz took the top spot.
Diaz came off his best qualifying effort of the season at Hickory Motor Speedway. Diaz held the lead at the .363 mile facility until lap 22 when Mini Tyrell, in his early 90s Quaker State Ricky Hendrick throwback car, got the lead Diaz on lap 24 after a battle. Tyrell held the point during the first competition yellow on lap 40.
On the restart, Craig Moore wheeled his Wayne Patterson-themed Budweiser car attempting to get by Tyrell. Mini found some speed in the second run. Further back, Shafer, Fryar, McCarty and Connor Jones nearly had a big moment on lap 46. The field settled into a rhythm as Josh Berry charged ahead to second place.
Leaders caught up to lap traffic on lap 77 when Mike Darne, Joe Valento, and Brandon Pierce nearly crashed in front of Tyrell and Berry. The front runners were saved from heavy traffic when the 40 lap run caution rule caused the yellow to wave again. This planned caution spared quite a few drivers near the back from going a lap down.
On lap 85 Timothy Peters, who had struggled all weekend, wound up spun out facing the wrong way in turn two. Peters qualified 28th on the grid and could never find the grip the team was looking for. Frustrated by the car’s handling, the Autosbynelson.com driver parked it for the night after bringing out another yellow.
Another favorite was hampered on lap 95 when Daniel Silvestri was attempting to defend his win from the last CARS Tour event at Dominion Raceway. Silvestri suffered a flat right rear tire and wound up multiple laps down.
Sam Yarbrough made his way up to 3rd place as the laps hit the century mark. Josh Berry began to pace the field and stretch his lead. It began to look like a runaway victory when Mitch Walker, Mike Looney, and Ryan Millington spun in turn three on lap 128. It would be a ten-lap shootout to the end, with a hungry Mason Diaz in the runner-up spot. Diaz had struggles in 2021, but he had a shootout for a chance to dethrone the king of Hickory.
On the restart, the field stacked up when Diaz did not get a great start. A few cars made contact towards the front. Bubba Pollard squeezed into the wall after contact, which brought out a yellow to retry the restart again.
The green flag flew, and Diaz put his nose on the right rear quarter panel to the door of Josh Berry multiple times. Berry’s car dug into the high side and utilized an excellent drive off of turn two and turn four to hold off a final push from Mason Diaz. Berry took the checkered and rolled into a familiar victory lane. The winningest driver in CARS Tour history climbed out of his car in celebration.
It was tough”, Berry said. “We had a little bit better car on the long run than (Diaz) had on the short run. He was able to pressure me real bad. I couldn’t get away. I moved up the track and luckily, we had just enough drive-off of the corner to stay half a car length to a car length ahead on the straightaways for him to get to me.”
Mason Diaz had his head held high after his best performance of the year at Hickory.
“Overall, it was a great night,” Diaz said. “Our season in the CARS Tour has not been a good one at all. For us to qualify in our best spot all year, I can’t complain at all.” Diaz felt as though he might have saved just a bit too much in the early stages. “I think if I would have stayed in front of him (Berry) when I fell back and saved tires, It would have been a different story.”
Diaz was chomping at the bit in the final leg of the feature. “That restart with eight to go, I was happy for that re-do, I spun the tires. I was happy we had that second chance to close the gap and use him up a little bit. We maintained and raced side by side. We were one spot short. It just shows improvement with our cars. It was our best finish of the year.”
Third place finisher Sam Yarbrough had a steady handling car and saved his tires to get to his best finish of the year. “Tonight we just had a good solid car,” said Yarbrough. “We had good track position early and a decent qualifying effort. We tried to stay out of trouble and keep the tires and fenders on it.” Yarbrough nearly went five-wide when Diaz spun tires on the restart. But he was able to save it and get the car home on the podium.
Hickory Motor Speedway produced plenty of movers and goers, with its worn-out surface and hot and slick conditions. Old school paint schemes and a who’s who of racing legends brought a full-house of fans to the historic facility. Ultimately it was a battle of youth versus experience that came down to the wire. Josh Berry added another CARS Tour victory to his belt. There were strong showings for a few drivers that had their share of struggles during the 2021 season.
The next CARS Tour Late Model Stock event will be held at Motor Mile Speedway in Fairlawn, Virginia on August 28th. The previously scheduled race at Wake County Speedway has been postponed to October 9th due to the ongoing tire shortage that has been a thorn in the side of short track racing all summer long.
The CARS Late Model Stock Tour will travel back to the Commonwealth of Virginia at the end of August at Motor Mile Speedway. Fans can follow along at race22 on Facebook and race22.com, the Short Track Authority.
Cover photo by Bridger Swinimer.